Acrylamide in Coffee: Should You Be Concerned?
The health benefits of drinking coffee are pretty impressive.
It’s been shown to enhance brain function, increase metabolic rate, and improve exercise performance (1, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
A regular intake of coffee has also been linked with a lower risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and type 2 diabetes (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
To top it off, coffee drinkers seem to live longer (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
However, coffee also contains a potentially harmful chemical called acrylamide.
What is acrylamide?
The chemical acrylamide (or acrylic amide) is a white, odorless, crystal compound. It has the chemical formula C3H5NO.
It’s used to make plastics and treat wastewater, among other things.
Overexposure at work can cause damage to the nervous system. It’s also thought to increase the risk for cancer (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
Every day we’re exposed to acrylamide through smoking and secondhand smoke, as well as personal care products and household items.
In 2002, Swedish scientists also discovered the compound in a wide range of foods, including baked goods and coffee (16Trusted Source).
Scientists believe the acrylamide in food is a product of the Maillard reaction. This reaction occurs when sugars and amino acids are heated above 248°F (120°C) (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
What we do know is that when coffee beans are roasted, acrylamide is formed. There’s no way to remove acrylamide from coffee, so when you drink it, you’re exposing yourself to the chemical (19Trusted Source).
Acrylamide is a potentially harmful chemical formed during the coffee bean roasting process.
Is acrylamide really harmful?
Acrylamide can definitely be harmful.
Yet, as is often the case in nutrition, the devil is in the dose.
Workplace exposure to very high doses of acrylamide can cause nerve damage and disorders of the nervous system (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
Studies in animals have also repeatedly shown that high amounts of acrylamide can cause cancer when eaten.
However, the doses given to animals have been 1000–100,000 times larger than the amounts humans are exposed to through diet.
Humans also metabolize acrylamide differently, so we’re exposed to a lower dose of the chemical when our body breaks it down (20Trusted Source).
Unfortunately, there are few human studies on the safety of acrylamide in food, and the results have been inconsistent (21Trusted Source).
It’s also important to keep in mind that acrylamide is not a new problem. Despite only recently being discovered in our food, it’s likely to have been there in some amount since man started cooking.
Workplace exposure to high amounts of acrylamide can cause nerve damage. In very high doses, acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals. We don’t know how much of it is safe for humans.
How much acrylamide does coffee contain?
The amount of acrylamide in coffee varies greatly.
A 2013 study analyzed 42 samples of coffee, including 11 instant coffees and 3 coffee substitutes (grain coffee).
Researchers found instant coffee to have 100% more acrylamide than fresh roasted coffee, while coffee substitutes had 300% more (22Trusted Source). Here are the average amounts of acrylamide they found in each type of coffee:
Fresh roasted coffee contained about 179 micrograms per kilogram (mcg/kg).
Instant coffee had 358 mcg/kg.
Coffee substitutes had 818 mcg/kg.
They also noted that acrylamide levels peak early in the heating process and then decline. So lighter-colored coffee beans have more acrylamide than darker ones that are roasted longer.
The amount of acrylamide in coffee can vary greatly. Well-roasted, dark, fresh coffee beans are likely to have the lowest amount.
Is drinking coffee risky?
While a link between acrylamide intake and cancer in humans hasn’t been proven, it can’t be ruled out.
However, coffee drinking hasn’t been shown to increase your risk for cancer. In fact, it’s linked with a reduced risk of developing some types of cancers (23Trusted Source).
For example, in one study, people who increased their coffee intake by 2 cups per day had a 40% lower risk of liver cancer (24Trusted Source).
Coffee drinking is also linked to a plethora of other health benefits, such as living longer and a reduced risk for many diseases.
Coffee hasn’t been shown to increase your risk of cancer. It has actually been linked with a reduced risk of some types of cancers, such as liver cancer.
Should you stop drinking coffee to avoid acrylamide?
Avoiding acrylamide completely isn’t possible.
At the moment, we consume less acrylamide than the maximum exposure levels recommended by the European Food Safety Authority (25).
While it’s not possible to buy coffee that’s completely free of acrylamide, the coffee industry is working on practical solutions to reduce its presence (26, 27Trusted Source).
Given the potential health benefits of coffee, it’s not something you need to cut out.
Coffee contains many other chemicals that may be beneficial to your health; cutting it out isn’t necessary.
How to minimize your acrylamide exposure
There’s no evidence that small amounts of dietary acrylamide cause harm.
However, if you’re concerned, here are a few steps you can take to minimize your exposure:
If you smoke, quit smoking and try to minimize your exposure to secondhand smoke.
Try to keep frying to a minimum, as it produces the most acrylamide of all cooking methods.
Try not to burn or char foods on the grill.
Reduce your intake of toasted bread.
Boil or use the microwave when possible.
Store potatoes outside of the fridge (28Trusted Source).
Let your bread dough proof longer — the fermentation of yeast reduces the amount of asparagine in the dough, so less acrylamide is made (29Trusted Source).
Choose dark roasted coffee and avoid instant coffee and coffee alternatives.
Completely avoiding acrylamide is impossible. However, you can make a few changes to reduce your acrylamide intake.
The bottom line
Coffee contains various substances that are linked to positive effects on health.
These outweigh the potential negative effects of acrylamide, so there’s no need to stop drinking coffee if you enjoy it